Monday, February 6, 2023

I’ve been playing Path Of Exile: Echoes Of the Atlas all weekend and have no regrets

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On Friday, a new Path of Exile league and a new drop in content hit PC, and it’s coming this week to console. I’ve been playing Path of Exile for almost a decade now (with 500 hours of connection on Steam), and every league guarantees at least quick feedback to see what’s new. Many of us at Game Informer always come back to see what happens, check out Jeff Cork’s experience with the previous one Heist league here.

With the latest Ritual League and Maven content, Grinding Gear Games cooks up a powerful brainstorm that taps into their top-notch action / RPG endgame cycle, but part of the framework built around other aspects of the game. starts to feel rude. I basically played all weekend, leaving me with a level 85 Super Necromancer which is probably just the start of my participation in this update. Yes. Level 85. I played… a lot. Let’s take a quick stroll through Ritual, the Atlas, and Path of Exile.

Answer your own prayers

With Ritual League, you can really have it your way when it comes to loot. Although trading is part of the game, I have never enjoyed this aspect and prefer to find my own equipment, until playing in the Solo Self-Found league. Unfortunately, when playing in this mode, I can’t use the guild bank to equip all of my friends, so I usually find myself in the standard leagues. However, instead of gathering a shipment of Chaos Orbs and trading for powerful items, I like to find my own gear and navigate my way through the Campaign and the Atlas. Ritual gives players access to extremely powerful gear, premium currency, and basically an agency on their own progression path as you go through each screen, which adds a lot to the overall progression arc. You no longer hope for a good drop, you select exactly what you want and you win it, maybe over the course of several cards.

Ritual allows players to purchase items with ritual points that you earn in each area. Can’t afford the big power items? You can postpone the item to a future area, which means you will see it again soon with a discount. You can defer items as many times as needed in order to get them reasonably priced, which allowed me to acquire a Tabula Rasa early on my character. Tabula Rasa is a huge boost early in the game, giving the player access to a 6-link chest that you can insert in any gem color. The downside of course is that the Tabula Rasa is truly a “blank slate” with no stats, so it’s a replaceable part much later on the line.

Either way, the key point here is that every area you enter is filled with interesting choices to make. When you select the equipment or currency to buy, it makes each location interesting and even dominates anything you can do in the region in terms of priority. Performing rituals adds a controllable path of progression to a world of randomness in a meaningful and intelligent way. Instead of relying on a full roll of the dice to find out what you can find, you can choose from a powerful selection of products in each area and save overpriced things for later. Ritual has all the hooks of slot machines by spotting a premium Exalted Orb or Anointed Talisman in your Ritual Shop and adds method of choice and controlled progression in a world ruled by chance. It’s a great way to create risk, rewards, and progress while keeping an element of surprise throughout.

Plot a course

The Atlas is Path of Exile’s endgame system, structured through map elements that the player can find and modify. You find various maps and try to fill your Atlas by completing each one, but it’s nowhere near that simple. For example, cards are items and come in various rarities, and like everything else in Path of Exile, they can be modified with other consumable items. Do you have a magic card? Make it rare and change the modifiers. Add scarabs when you open the map to add other items like more loot, higher drop rates, bigger challenges, etc. Are you feeling spicy? Use a vaal orb to create a completely unpredictable map. Changing the look and quality of the map is a major aspect of creating loot-laden playgrounds filled with challenges and discoveries, and experimentation is key to success. Random items that can be attached to a map involve everything from monster density to item drop rates. The screenshot below highlights a map with a solid number of modifiers that you can see at the top right, but it’s a long way from how wild things can get when you really start making your maps. .

The Atlas gets a big boost in Exploratory Properties here in this latest content drop with the addition of the Maven, which will follow you around the Atlas, participating in boss fights and trying to kill you in the backstage with fire blasts, buffs, and other mayhem injected into the map’s standard bosses (these are of course in addition to any mods you’ve already added). Eventually, you’ll be able to run gauntlets and take on the Maven yourself, and add special items to your map regions at the same time via another progression tree. Until then, it’s business as usual as you explore hundreds and hundreds of maps, hunting down dangerous bosses all over the Atlas. The Atlas is by far the deepest and most interesting endgame ARPG progression system out there, and it’s wonderful to see it continue to get compelling upgrades.

Knowledge burden

For all the great things available now with this latest content drop, Path of Exile faces the challenge of being almost incomprehensible to newcomers at this point. There are what look like hundreds of systems all interacting with each other, and by the time players complete the campaign and enter the Atlas, they can easily be overwhelmed. Managing inventory has become an absolute nightmare over the years, even with special storage tabs to help keep things organized. You see, many Path of Exile leagues remain and are added to the base game after their lifecycle ends, leading to a game filled with varied encounters and content with each turn. On the other side of that equation is the fact that there are hundreds of different currencies that all take up inventory space and, on the surface, can be completely unintelligible.

How is a new player supposed to know the value of, say, seven bursts of time or sepia oil? With all of the different currencies and items you can carry around at any given time, inventory space is now at an absolute premium and there is just too much to pick up, transport, and sort. There are so many systems at work now that it’s a minefield of knowledge that tries to navigate divination maps, abyssal gems, and many other features and mechanics that are now stacked on top of each other. with little to no in-game help. Of course, you can search online for explanations or use the in-game help tool to try and figure things out, but it takes a lot of players to research all these mechanisms in addition to learning the Atlas, constructions, passive skills, ascendant. trees, skill interactions, and more. Path of Exile has a lot of complexity and meat on its bones and I never want that to change, but providing some valuable and straightforward information and maybe streamlining some of the hundreds of currencies would be a godsend, in my opinion, before the deluge of tools crashes under its own weight. Hopefully, when we know more about Path of Exile 2, this is where it would make best sense to tie some (not all) of these structures together or give us more inventory space.

Sandals

Another aspect that I think is in dire need of a look is cleaning up some of the systems from centuries past. While health, mana, and utility potions are a staple of the ARPG genre, there are few occasions in Atlas-level POEs where I don’t just make potions almost 100% of the time. This creates a frustrating and potentially painful experience for the hand after a few hours of play as the number keys are slammed into oblivion with a fervor that would make even World of Warcraft Rogue’s most aggressive Sinister Strike punch blush. I have had issues with hands and nerves in the past due to repetitive punches, and while I don’t want potion healing and resource generation to go away, the frequency of continuous inputs expected by the POE current is approximate.

The current POE progression path also includes many dives into The Labyrinth in order to unlock Ascension Points, which are class defining building points that are not optional. Forcing players through the Labyrinth’s myriad of mazes, traps and boring corridors is blatant today. When the Maze was endgame content years ago, it made sense, but today it’s just busy work. On that note, while I understand that a lot of skill points and other essentials relate to quests, I think it’s time to no longer have to campaign every league. All 10 acts take a while to complete and if you want to tell players the story of Wraeclast that’s fine, but after the 5th or 6th time around I prefer to just go straight into the maps and not worry to fight the Brine King again.

Constantly evolving

Some content drops for Path of Exile don’t really happen to me, as I checked out Harvest and Heist quite quickly. Ritual is the perfect control out of the chaos that gives you the excitement of getting new drops, but without the random spread of just smashing chests and killing monsters in the hopes of seeing some big loot turn around. Maven is already adding more to the best aspect of the game, the Atlas, and giving hope that Path of Exile will continue to iterate and expand its endgame system. While some aspects of the game feel like they’ve run out of welcome since their inception, now is the time to jump into the new league, if you’re ready to spend some time learning about the many features. that have been implemented over the years.

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